10 cool registry edits and tweaks for Windows XP

Here are a few Windows XP registry edits you can use to make adjustments that go beyond simple Control Panel settings.

You're probably pretty familiar with the Registry Editor. For Windows XP, you just run the REGEDIT command at the Run prompt. Then, move down through the organization tree levels to the values and settings you want and double-click them to change them in a dialog box format. However, before you start making any changes, it's a good idea to make a backup copy of the registry by choosing File | Export. Here are a few handy hacks that will help you tailor the system to your liking.

This blog post previously appeared as an entry in our Microsoft Windows blog and is available as a PDF download.

1: Change categories in the Control Panel

Windows XP's Control Panel is broken down by category in the default Category view, but the group an item belongs to is not always obvious. If you disagree with Microsoft's assignments, you can switch them around. To assign a different category to an item, go to:

# HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Control Panel\Extended Properties\{305CA226-D286-468e-B848-2B2E8E697B74} 2
Find the item you want to change and double-click it to bring up a dialog box. Change the item's DWORD value to your preference. Use Table A as a guide (shown with decimal numbers, which is the way you should enter them).

Table A

Category DWORD value to set
Other Control Panel Options 0
Appearance and Themes 1
Printers and Other Hardware 2
Network and Internet Connections 3
Sounds, Speed, and Audio Devices 4
Performance and Maintenance 5
Date, Time, Language, and Regional Options 6
Accessibility Options 7
Add or Remove Programs 8
User Accounts 9

2: Create a hidden user account

The user accounts you've set up appear on the Welcome screen when you start up the PC. To hide one of the user accounts so that it doesn't appear here, go to:

# HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Winlogon\SpecialAccounts\UserList

Right-click anywhere within the registry window and click New to create a new DWORD value with the name of the account to be hidden. Set the value to 0 (decimal). This account won't be accessible when switching users with Fast User Switching; you'll be able to access it only from the Log On To Windows dialog box. Keep in mind that it is not a totally hidden account; the account's profile will appear in the Documents And Settings folder. Also, the account appears in Local Users And Groups when an administrator is logged on.

3: Prevent programs from loading at startup

Remember back in the good old days of Windows 3.1 when you could open up the Win.ini file in a text editor and remove an item from the RUN= line to disable it from running at startup? With Windows 9x and above, the Win.ini file became less useful because 32-bit programs were set to run at startup from within the registry instead.

One way to selectively disable programs from loading at startup is to use MSCONFIG (from the Run command) to deselect certain items. Another way to remove them is to edit the registry directly. Consider the following locations:


for applications that start up for all users


for applications that start up when the current user logs on

Remove the entry for a program by right-clicking it and selecting Delete to prevent it from loading.

4: Sort menus alphabetically

When you install a new program for a user, it doesn't find its place in the alphabetical Start menu hierarchy right away; it hangs out at the bottom for a little while. If your users employ the Classic Start menu, they can re-alphabetize it manually by right-clicking the taskbar and choosing Properties, clicking the Customize button next to the Classic Start Menu, and clicking the Sort button. With the Windows XP Start menu style, however, you don't have an equivalent button. To make Windows always alphabetize the list, remove the permissions from the registry key that controls the sort order for the Start menu. To do so, go to:

# HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\MenuOrder

Choose Edit | Permissions and click the Advanced button. Deselect the Inherit From Parent The Permission Entries That Apply To Child Objects check box and then click Copy when the Security dialog box pops up. Click OK and clear the Full Control entry for your account and all security groups you are a member of. Leave only Read permission.

5: Change the desktop cleanup frequency

Through Display Properties (Desktop tab, Customize Desktop button, General tab), you can toggle a feature that runs the Desktop Cleanup Wizard every 60 days. You don't have an option to set a different interval there, but you can change the interval in the registry. To do so, go to:

# HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Desktop\CleanupWiz

Change the Days Between Clean Up value to some other number of days (in decimal format).

6: Use desktop patterns

Windows XP provides no direct support for the Patterns feature that was present in earlier versions of Windows, but the feature is still there. It's just hidden in the registry. To enable a pattern, first set None as the background in Display Properties. Then, you need to find out the code for that pattern. To look up a code, go to:

# HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Control Panel\Patterns

A variety of patterns is listed, and each one has a Data value. Copy the value you want to the Clipboard. Then, go to:

# HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Control Panel\Desktop

Add a string value called Pattern. Paste the string from the clipboard as its value. The new pattern will appear the next time you log on.

7: Delete the Files Stored On This Computer category in the My Computer window

In Windows XP, the My Computer window's listing is broken down by categories: Hard Disk Drives, Devices With Removable Storage, and so on. One of these categories is Files Stored On This Computer, which appears at the top of the My Computer window. If a user doesn't need it (and most folks don't), you can get rid of it. To do so, go to:

# HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\MyComputer\NameSpace\Delegate Folders

Delete the {59031a47-3f72-44a7-89c55595fe6b30ee} subkey to remove the category.

8: Erase the swap file at shutdown

You might be concerned about someone browsing your users' swap files and gathering up little bits of their sensitive data. A remote possibility, to be sure, but it could happen. For that extra measure of security, go to:

# HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\System\CurrentControlSet\Control\Session Manager\Memory Management

Set the ClearPageFileAtShutdown DWORD to 1. This will make shutdowns take longer, because it overwrites everything in the swap file with zeroes. Don't turn this feature on unless you have a serious security threat.

9: Adjust System Restore values

The System Restore feature in Windows XP automatically backs up a snapshot of your system, including your registry, every 24 hours. It also saves restore points for 90 days. Neither of these values is directly editable in the System Restore program, but you can change them in the registry. Go to:

# HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\WindowsNT\CurrentVersion\SystemRestore

You'll find an assortment of settings here. To change the interval between automatically created restore points, change the RPGlobalInterval setting. To change the number of days that a restore point is retained, change the RPLifeInterval setting.

System Restore time intervals are measured in seconds, not days, so you must convert the number of days you want into seconds. There are 86,400 seconds in a day, so multiply 86,400 by the number of days you want to determine the value. There are 3,600 seconds in an hour.

10: Create a right-click command prompt option

You can right-click a folder to get a list of actions you can apply to it. Here's a way to create an action on that right-click menu that opens a command prompt window with that folder as the current directory. In a text editor such as Notepad, type the following:

Windows registry Editor Version 5.00

[HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\Folder\shell\Cmd Here]@="Command &Prompt Here"
[HKEY_CLASSES-ROOT\Folder\shell\Cmd Here\command]@="cmd.exe /k pushd %L"

Save the file with any name you want, with a .reg extension. Then, double-click the saved file and choose Yes to merge the file's information into the registry. You can delete the file. Right-click any folder and you'll see the CommandPrompt Here option.

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